Why is America doing so poorly when it comes to education? Well, there are many reasons. Very many. However, I’m going to offer some new ones.

1. The mentality of “If I can’t benefit from it, then it is useless.”

What happened to learning in order to know? Where did that go? When did students stop giving a flying crap about anything unless:

a. It will make them a buck, or
b. It will make a great Facebook status?

Seriously, what are we teaching these kids? Children are now getting the impression that retaining knowledge is optional. They study for a test, then forget everything that won’t immediately offer them some sort of reward. No longer is it worthwhile to aspire to greatness. People are now aspiring to do as little as possible without getting fired. There was a time when we looked up to the geniuses. Knowledge was considered an asset. To know something unique was a proud moment. Oh, not anymore. Now we aspire to mediocrity, and mediocrity is what we’ve gotten.

2. Parents viewing school as a babysitter.

Of course, not all parents do this. But too many do. Teachers used to be respected by students and parents alike. Lately, parents get irritated if the teacher calls them on the phone. Parents don’t want to come to meetings and conferences, and they don’t want phone calls. Parents want the school to “handle it.” If the school doesn’t just “handle it,” then the school must therefore be weak and a failure. No, parents, that isn’t the way it works. Schools do not exist so that you can work uninterrupted during the day. Schools exist to educate your child, not to handle all of his social issues and lack of discipline at home. The way it works is: schools have to deal with your child the way that you have raised him. NOT you have to deal with your child the way the school has raised him. So get off your Facebook app on your phone and read the papers with which your child is sent home. Help him with his homework, or at least make sure he does his homework. Make him clean his room and help with dinner. Teach him that knowledge leads to greatness, encourage him to read and learn.

3. Participation is great, but doing well is better.

Now I know there is a lot of controversy regarding this participation subject. And yes, of course we should encourage every student to participate. I don’t believe that a child who participates should ever be chastised or made to feel stupid. Children need to learn that they have a voice. They need to develop the confidence to use that voice. However… there is also such a thing as quality over quantity. While learning that they are praised for participating, children need to learn that they are praised more for participating well. A child who raises his hand and says the wrong answer should be complimented on his willingness to offer to the discussion. A child who raises his hand and says the right answer should be complimented on the above as well as his accurate knowledge. We need to teach children that “showing up” isn’t always enough. Sure, it’s cute in school. But showing up at work in the morning isn’t enough to keep your job. Showing up to the job interview isn’t enough to get the job. While we are so focused on participation, we are once again teaching our children that being mediocre is the goal. In life, showing up isn’t going to get you a trophy. The more quality you produce, the bigger the trophies, so why not teach our children this early on. That way they won’t feel like such huge failures all the time when one day they wake up and stop getting trophies just for existing.

What inspired this post was a real conversation I had the other day:

Her: Dude, I hate history.
Me: Why do you hate history?
Her: Because it’s stupid. Who cares about all that crap anyway? I mean, what happened in 1812? Was there a war or something?
Me (dryly): Um… yeah. The War of 1812.
Her: Oh. Who was that with?
Me: Us and Great Britain.
Her: That’s England right?
Me: Yeah.
Her: Well who needs to know that stuff? I mean, I know there was World War I and World War II and the Civil War. That was with the north and the south.
Me (laughing at this point): Yeah, that’s right. Do you know who the Axis and the Allies were?
Her: Yeah. The Axis were WWI and the Allies were WWII.
Me: Uh, no. The Axis Powers was the collective name for Germany, Italy, and Japan in WWII. The Allies was the name for the alliance of France, Russia, Britain, Italy, etc. in WWI when they fought the Central Powers. In WWII it was us, the Brits, and the Soviet Union.
Her: How the hell do you remember all this stuff?
Me: You didn’t do this in high school history?
Her: I guess. Damn, I don’t remember.
Me: It’s kinda common knowledge.
Her: Well whatever. I hate history.
Me: Interesting philosophy.

Yes, I swear to you I had this conversation. And this is the thing that frightens me the most: this girl is a 4.0 college student. Not to mention that there were about five other people there with us, and when I looked at them incredulously, they just shook their heads at me. They didn’t know either. In fact, they were looking at me as though I was strange for knowing these facts.

America, don’t let this happen to our country. There are many things that we cannot control as average Americans. This is not one of those things. If you have a child, for God’s sake please raise him or her to value life, learning, and knowledge. Just for the sake of knowing.

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